Customers want what they want,
when they want it. Here’s how to
deliver on that.
In the future, all customer service calls will
be handled telepathically.
Well, probably not, but who knows how
customers will want to communicate in the
coming years. Who would have guessed
back in 2005 that customer service would be
conducted on something called Twitter?
We know that the rapid pace of digital innovation
could shepherd in completely new channels
of communication. And, the contact center of the future
will be charged with keeping up with those communication
In addition to its daily evaluation of customer service
performance, StellaService conducts periodic consumer
surveys to better understand the customer service expectations
of online shoppers. When asked about their
preferred method of contact for customer support, 90
percent of respondents chose either phone or email—46
percent and 44 percent, respectively. Live chat (6 percent)
bested Facebook (4 percent) and Twitter (1 percent)
combined. While not the most preferred now,
there seems to be momentum for live chat, a channel
that could be more prevalent in the future. Millenials in
particular, who grew up communicating through online
chat programs, could adopt this channel as a favorite.
When asked why they choose a particular channel,
respondents to the survey said:
- Phone: prefer to speak to a human (61 percent)
- Email: more convenient (81 percent)
- Chat: faster answers (50 percent)
- Social: believe a public post is more likely to get answered (43 percent)
So, how are retailers performing against these expectations?
When asked about
method of contact for
of respondents chose
either phone or email.
Our company measures issue resolution, which is
defined as an interaction with a company that does not
require another contact, and data shows that issue resolution
via email for apparel, shoes and accessories companies
lags behind phone support by 26 percent. Remember
that 44 percent of consumers want issues handled
via email, largely because they want convenience. Data
shows that those consumers are 26 percent less likely to
have a problem solved than if they had picked up the
Getting it right the first time is important to consumers:
62 percent of respondents said they will shop
elsewhere if a retailer does not resolve the issue on first
And, there’s something about that connected conversation
via phone, and even chat, that can lead to better
outcomes for customer support. Will consumers want
more real-time, one-on-one service?
BaubleBar.com is an example of a company hoping to
make the most of those one-on-one interactions. The
jewelry and accessories seller has been experimenting
with video chat.
Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar.com’s director of
customer experience, says video chat helps greatly with
some of the challenges of selling jewelry online. Seeing
the jewelry worn by members of the team helps give
the product scale. It’s a better way to show the length
of a necklace or the bulk of a bracelet. Women want to
know what to expect when they have that BaubleBar.
com box delivered. And, they like having a shopping
“It’s like sitting with your girlfriends and chitchatting
and shopping for jewelry,” says Alexander-Hurst. “You
pick a time, pick a style. It becomes an event you’re attending.
And, we can build an appointment around a
Shoppers can schedule 30-minute appointments,
although Alexander-Hurst said it has been difficult keeping
those appointments from lasting longer. In addition,
she says the video chats have appealed to a wide range
of customers—from college-age to over 60. And, it’s
driving sales. “We immediately saw a lift,” Alexander-
Hurst says. “Jewelry works well for [video] chat. It’s an
easy demo.” Others, such as beauty brand Prescriptives,
Inc., are also finding value in video chat.
respondents said they
will shop elsewhere
if a retailer does not
resolve the issue on
In the future, contact centers will need to be fast—
no surprise there. Our consumer survey found that 64
percent of respondents expect to be connected to a live
agent in less than one minute. In fact, 25 percent want
to be connected to a live agent in less than 30 seconds.
However data shows that 44 percent of apparel, shoes
and accessories companies require more than one minute
to connect customers to a live agent.
Nearly half of the category is not meeting the expectations
of more than half of consumers. But, we also know
that 56 percent of retailers are connecting consumers to
a live agent in under a minute. It’s certainly an achievable
metric that’s important to customers.
Consumers also express a desire to avoid automated
recordings in favor of speaking to a human. In fact, 78
percent of respondents said they would rather be connected
directly with an agent and then transferred,
rather than being forced to make IVR selections.
Respondents were 19 percent less likely to abandon a
call if they were transferred to a live agent versus being
placed on hold.
For email, most shoppers will wait up to 24 hours for
an answer. Still, 26 percent expect a reply within eight
hours. Our study found that if the email is not answered
in a satisfactory amount of time, 27 percent of customers
said they will email again, while 66 percent said they
would pick up the phone and call the retailer.
The findings suggest that an email response within a
business day could decrease call volume. And data shows
48 percent of apparel, shoes and accessories retailers fail
to reply to emails within eight hours.
For the contact center of the future, this type of data
will be crucial for finding efficiencies that not only
provide a better experience for the customer, but drive
down operational costs.
The Cloud and Mobile
We also expect an even stronger movement toward
the contact center in the cloud. We all know that contact
centers can be expensive to maintain and difficult
to scale. However, there are now services that help
companies set up cloud-based contact centers, which
cost less than traditional systems and have no specific
hardware requirements. These systems allow for more of
the workforce to be distributed and more processes to be
There are also benefits such as geo-routing—dynamically
sending callers to the contact center nearest them.
In some cases, retailers will try to match calls with a
customer service agent from the same area.
Mobile is also an undeniable shift that must be factored
into the contact center of the future. Consumers
now have sophisticated communication devices with
them at all times. Initiatives like SMS alerts, package
delivery or return authorization are already in practice,
but we expect the customer service experience to evolve
from new features enabled by mobile devices.
Agents and customers can easily trade photos and
videos to troubleshoot a question, or geo-location could
enable a buy online, pick up in store scenario. There’s
clearly a trend to more business being conducted via
mobile, and we expect there will be some exciting developments
for customer service on mobile platforms.
Still, regardless of the technology that will dazzle and
delight, the contact center of the future will still subscribe
to an old-fashioned recipe for service.
Be fast. Be friendly. Be helpful. You don’t have to
telepathic to know that.